In the street of native shops the possible purchaser is attacked by storm, every voice yelps out prices. The dealers scrambled into my carriage with a whole catalogue of bargains poured out in a mixed lingo, and with such overpowering insistence that I had to fly. An electric tram-car, provided with a loud bell that rings without ceasing, runs through the suburbs, a dirty swarming quarter[Pg 140] where the streets are alive with naked children, fowls and pigs wallowing in heaps of filth and the mud made by watering the road.In every house a tiny lamp allowed us to see the women, squatting while they pounded millet, or cooked in copper pots. Then night suddenly fell, and I could no longer find my way about the dark alleys, stumbling as I went over cows lying across the path, till I suddenly found myself opposite a very tall pagoda, three storeys high. On the threshold the bonzes were banging with all their might on gongs and drums, alternately with bells. And on the opposite side of the street, in a sort of shed enclosed on three sides, but wide open to the passers-by, people in gay robes were prostrate before two shapeless idols, Krishna and Vishnu, painted bright red, twinkling with ornaments of tinsel and lead-paper, and crudely lighted up by lamps with reflectors. And then at once I was between low houses again, and going down tortuous streets to the river-bed,[Pg 48] whither I was guided by the sound of castanets and tambourines.
In the evening, in the open street, we came upon a circle of bystanders all beating time, while in the midst four little girls were dancing, wearing the sarong, but naked to the waist. They leaned very much over to the right, resting the right elbow on the groin, clapping the right hand with the left, and throwing back the left leg. All four did the same, round and round, and this went on again and again without a pause, under the pale light of the stars filtering through an enormous banyan tree. Occasionally a woman among the crowd would give a slow, long-drawn cry, and the dancers answered in very short notes, piercingly shrill.
The priests slowly mounted the stairs, the music died away in echoes more and more confused, ceasing at last, while the sacred animal, going off to the right at the foot of the steps, disappeared into its stable.
King Zainulmulook has lost his sight, and can recover it only if someone will bring to him a miraculous flower from the garden of Bakaoli. His four sons set out in search of it. Zainulmulook has a fifth son, named Tazulmulook. At the birth of this child the king has had his horoscope cast by the astrologers of the palace, who declared that the king would become blind if he should see his son before his twelfth year; but hunting one day the king has met Tazulmulook, who was walking in the forest, and has lost his sight.In the middle of the station groups of women and children squatted on the flagstones, their little bundles about them of red and white rags, and copper pots looking like gold; a huddled heap of misery, in this enormous hall of palatial proportions, handsomely decorated with sculptured marble.As I was leaving, the fakir rose amid the cries of all the people, who clamoured for his blessing. He[Pg 246] silenced them by a sign, then laying one hand on my shoulder, after looking at my medal—
To-day a religious festival; from the earliest hour everybody had donned new clothes, and in the [Pg 262]afternoon in the bazaar there was a masquerade of the lowest class—embroidered dhotis, white robes, light-coloured turbans displaying large discs of green, red or blue. The men, even old men, ran after each other with bottles of coloured water, which they sprinkled far and near. One indeed had neither more nor less than a phial of violet ink, which, on the face and hands of a little black boy, shone with metallic lustre. One boy, in a clean garment, fled from a man who was a constant beggar from me, and who was pursuing him with some yellow fluid; and the fugitive was quite seriously blamed for disregarding the will of the gods and goddesses, whose festival it was.In the plain the sowars were performing an[Pg 280] Indian fantasia. Charging at a gallop, their wide sleeves flying behind them, they swept past like a whirlwind, aiming with their lances at a peg of wood stuck into the ground. Whenever it was speared there were frantic shouts and applause from a crowd of spectators, packed in the best places. In a cloud of dust, growing steadily thicker and hanging motionless over the riders, the performance went on, its centre always this same peg of wood, replaced again and again, exciting the enthusiasm of connoisseurs till the last ray of light died away.
Pilgrims crowd the courts and the temples. All, when they speak, hold a hand or a corner of their[Pg 76] robe before their lips to avoid swallowing the tiniest insect, which would avert the favour of the gods. They bring offerings of rice or gram in little bags of faded silk, pale pink, or green, and gold thread; the poorest have bags of red and white beads.A woman on the river-bank was flinging into the water, with devout unction, scraps of paper on which the name of Rama was written, rolled up in a paste made of flour. Not far from her another woman was praying; she stopped to wash her copper cooking-pots, then prayed again; gave her baby a bath, and then, squatting on the lowest step, prayed once more, and for a long time, after which she picked up her pots and her little one and went her way.
On our way back through the temple-quarter a sudden wild excitement possessed the worshippers and priests; out of a side street rushed a large troop of monkeys, grey, with black faces. They galloped past in a close pack and fled to the trees, shrieking shrilly. One, however, lagged behind, bent on stealing some rice that had been brought as an offering to a plaster image of Vishnu. A Brahmin stood watching the monkey, and tried to scare it away with a display of threatening arms, but he dared not hit the beast sacred to Hanuman, the god of the green face. The creature, never stirring from the spot, yelled aloud, bringing the rest of the pack back on to the roof of the neighbouring pagodas. Then the ringleader, with a subdued, sleepy, innocent gait, stole gently up to the tray of offerings. He was on the point of reaching it when the priest raised his arm. This was a signal for the whole tribe to scream and dance with terror, but without retreating. The performance seemed likely to last; the bazaar and the temples were in a hubbub of excitement; the doors of the shops and the sanctuaries were hastily shut, till, at the mere sight of a man who came out[Pg 299] with a long bamboo in his hand, the whole pack made off and appeared no more, and Hardwar relapsed into its somnolent sanctity.
A man by the roadside was mixing mud with[Pg 265] chopped straw; then when his mortar was of the right consistency he began to build the walls of his house between the four corner posts, with no tools but his hands. A woman and child helped him, patting the concrete with their hands until it began to look almost smooth.
In this house abode the postmaster of the Persian mails, and I wanted to register a letter for Cabul.Toglackabad, again an ancient Delhi, a rock on the bank of the Jumna after crossing a white desert; walls of granite, massive bastions, battlemented towers of a Saracen stamp, rough-hewn, devoid of ornament, and uniform in colour—bluish with light patches of lichen. The enclosure has crumbled into ruin, in places making breaches in the walls, which nevertheless preserve the forbidding aspect of an impregnable citadel.详情
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